Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Le Petit's library

"No! We don't throw books! We pick out one book, we read it, and when we're done, we put it back and choose another!" I grabbed le Petit's hands and assembled the patience to explain for the tenth time today the principles of good library management. Le Petit, ignoring me, wriggled free from my grasp and continued tossing his entire collection of picture books onto the floor.

My strategy of shoving the books back onto the shelf as soon as they hit the ground was clearly failing. He was too fast and I was too weary of this particular battle. So once again I found myself in the Choose Your Own Adventure that is parenting.

"You are faced with a recalcitrant toddler and a growing heap of picture books. You choose to:

1) Pick him up while he still has a book in hand, carry him to the couch and plop him on your lap, saying "Oh, that's a wonderful book to read with Mommy!" with all the enthusiasm you can muster and wait for him to squirm away after two pages;

2) Try to barricade the bookshelf with furniture, then watch as the barricade is meticulously disassembled. Rescue and console a crying toddler who has wedged himself between the couch and the coffee table;

3) Let him gleefully empty the shelf as you leaf through a magazine nearby, disregarding the far-flung repercussions of a lax and inconsistent discipline strategy."

Over the course of the morning I tried all three.

We easily own over a thousand books. Eight-hundred left Boston with us and we have acquired many more since, with barely a care for what might be a reasonable library for a 600 square foot Parisian apartment. Yet le Petit, whose growing love of books is our source of pride, doesn't always treat this great repository of knowledge and culture with the respect it deserves. We've blocked access to our most precious volumes, but we simply can't keep him away from all the shelves all the time. He has his own shelf with a growing collection of his very own books, and I'm torn. Do I let him have it at it, whether here's in the mood to studiously flip pages or more to throw and stomp? If we ration his reading material, are we losing the Golden Teaching Opportunity to foster a love of books?

He may love to throw, but he also loves to read. And there's almost nothing I love more than gathering him into my lap when he toddles up to me with a book. I've been reading to him since he was tiny. At first, I stuck to the story and turned the pages in order. When he was two months old, he was a passive audience and I wasn't entirely sure that I even held the book correctly in his limited field of vision. Now reading is an interactive affair. Le Petit holds the book and turns the pages himself, thank you very much, and he has favorite pages in many books that flips through deliberately to find.

One book, 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle, has a particularly captivating page with an embedded button under a drawing of a rubber duck that squeaks when pressed. Le Petit is still not strong enough to make it work himself, but has learned to grab my index finger and place it on the button so that I can do it for him. He eventually tried to use my finger to press other duck pictures on other pages, and I dutifully voiced a "squeak" or "quack" as needed.

Now the game has been expanded to include other books. He has a bedtime book with a picture of a baby in pajamas. As soon as I turn to the page he grabs for my finger, then presses it to the paper repeatedly to hear me say "pajamas!" over and over again.

As he does it he has his inimitable half smile and a look of concentration that makes me melt every time.

Today we read a book about babies. "Baby!" I said as he pressed my finger to the first page. On the second was a large picture of a smiling baby's face. We found baby's eyes, and mouth, and then he planted my finger right in the middle in the page.

"Nose! Baby's nose!" I said. Le Petit picked my finger back up off the page and touched his own nose.

I could barely contain my excitement and surprise. I called my husband to come look, and I coaxed le Petit to repeat the demonstration of his erudition.

"Did you see that? He knows what 'nose' means!" I gushed. I've known for some time that le Petit understands the general sense of what we say to him, but this was my first proof that he understands a word as an abstract concept and can make the leap from page to reality.

My husband was impressed, and as he pointed out almost as a compliment, the first word we are certain he understands is in English.

He truly is bilingual.

That, to this mom, is worth picking up many a heap of books on the floor.


Isabelle said...

I don't think that you can win this books' battle with Le Petit! It should be just a phase, like many other things, and he will get over it, when he finds something much more interesting to do ;)

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

I think you're right. I may just let him happily empty his bookshelf and try to slowly make a game out of putting all the books back. (sigh)

Pasifik said...

Great article!

Keep posting,


Goddess Babe said...

I just remembered... Something useful said to me when Miss G was small (probably Hedra said it.) Something along the lines of... They learn by surrounding themselves with stimuli. That's why they take all the toys out of the toy chest... so they can see everything and choose from the entire field (Still battling object permanence perhaps?)

Easier to see it all when it's spread all over the floor?

There. Hand-delivered dose of quasi-sanity. I hope.

Now, if we could just pick a freakin' hotel!

caramama said...

Yeah! Good for him, learning nose! That's so exciting!

I would have also done all three, likely in that order. I put all of the Pumpkin's books in baskets (one in her room, one in the family room). We let her just pull them all out and play with them. But there are a few that are nicer ones with flaps and moving parts that I keep out of reach when she's not reading it because she will tear the pieces off.

Thank goodness for board books, though! She can't destroy those!